NEWS

Security is no excuse for rights abuses, group says

Increased security measures during the Olympic Games should not become a pretext for violating basic human rights and citizens’ freedoms, the Athens office of Amnesty International told a press conference at the Athens Bar Association yesterday. «Security aims cannot become an excuse or opportunity for implementing measures which restrict citizens’ rights,» a representative of the international human rights group told reporters. «The aim should be a combination of security and the protection of rights, not a forced choice before a false dilemma of security or human rights,» Costis Papaioannou stressed. In the recent past, other countries have violated basic civil liberties in the name of security, the group said in a press release which noted that measures usually affected more «sensitive» groups such as refugees and immigrants. «The Olympic Games symbolize the camaraderie and solidarity of all peoples, and every effort should be made to ensure that we do not create an atmosphere of xenophobia opposite certain racial or religious groups,» an Amnesty statement warned in an apparent allusion to a growing mistrust of Muslim groups due to fears of a possible terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists. Amnesty officials appealed to Greek authorities to ensure that police and other security services staff avoid committing rights violations by exercising restraint in certain key areas. It would be desirable if police could refrain from abusive on-the-spot identification checks and «preventative» detentions – especially of immigrants, the group said. Free movement It also called on authorities to ensure that neither citizens nor visitors are barred from entering Olympic venues because of assumptions made by police on the basis of how they dress. Equally, the right of citizens to participate in peaceful demonstrations and rallies should not be curtailed by security services staff, the group added. Amnesty is also demanding that the operation of dozens of surveillance cameras across the capital serve security concerns alone and be removed once the Games are over. «Their use should be restricted to boosting security for the Olympic Games – and for no other purposes,» Papioannou stressed. Another area of concern highlighted by Amnesty is the impact of increased border controls on the influx of immigrants into Greece. «Heightened security measures being implemented at the country’s land and sea borders could further aggravate the already problematic situation faced by refugees trying to enter Greece with a view to gaining protection,» Amnesty warned in its press release. The authorities should adhere to existing domestic and international legislation aimed at protecting immigrants’ rights to political asylum, the group said. Amnesty also referred to violations of the rights of workers on Olympic construction sites and of Roma immigrants in Greece. It noted that at least 13 construction workers have died due to working excessive hours on sites with lax safety measures, and it appealed for the implementation of existing health and safety regulations to guard against further fatalities and accidents. The group also highlighted the failure of authorities to provide tent-dwelling Roma immigrants in Athenian suburbs with proper housing ahead of the Olympics. Many human rights groups had accused the previous government of «cleansing» greater Athens of Roma communities to build sports facilities for the Olympics.